I've been a big fan of E. Lockhart books before (namely the imminently re-readable Frankie Landau-Banks), but this one wasn't quite as 'wow' for me. II've been a big fan of E. Lockhart books before (namely the imminently re-readable Frankie Landau-Banks), but this one wasn't quite as 'wow' for me. In terms of atmosphere and milieu, it had a lot going for it, and I actually quite liked that there seemed to be a lot of story and history that existed outside of this particular story (the origin of the Liars' nickname, for instance). There's a nice build-up of tension and drama, but the whole 'twist' ending is not so much of a twist (and really, with all the hinting, I don't totally think it was meant to be), but it resolves a bit like a M. Night Shyamalan film and I'm not sure that's really an effect I'm ever looking for in a novel. ...more
Other than re-reading Music for Chameleons every few years—that probably being my all-time favorite book—I have purposefully spaced out my other CapotOther than re-reading Music for Chameleons every few years—that probably being my all-time favorite book—I have purposefully spaced out my other Capote readings to extend my reading pleasure. Answered Prayers, however, was likely a pleasure I could have forgone. I appreciate some of the characteristic snark and bitchiness (some grade A Capote zingers like "...she looked as if she wore tweed brassieres and played a lot of golf"), and concede that there are some really entertaining scenes (the dinner party with Monty Clift, Dorothy Parker, and Tallulah Bankhead, for instance). Moreover, the book is not without those moments of incisive observation and characterization that even at his most sarcastic and derisive, Capote really excelled at.
Nevertheless, this is, by and large, a cynical, mean-spirited, self-indulgent, and almost self-loathing sort of book. It's a fast read, but it's never quite a fun read, which a novel based on gossip really should be. Instead, he's too self-satisfied when he thinks he's being shocking, too pleased to have ferreted out nasty stories about famous people, and too convinced of his genius to realize that adding the vague patina of fiction wouldn't make this good art.
He could have done better—so much better—and it's frustrating that this is basically the book that tanked his career. More frustrating is that he seemed to believe that it was actually a work of genius.
It's telling, however, that the long chapter/short story "Mojave", which was published in Music for Chameleons, was supposed to have been a part of this book. It's my least favorite part of MforC and I often skip over it. That makes all the more sense now....more
**spoiler alert** I picked this up on a whim at the library because I was in the mood for a quick crime read and all the jacket quotes about it having**spoiler alert** I picked this up on a whim at the library because I was in the mood for a quick crime read and all the jacket quotes about it having "one of the most stomach-churningly fatalistic noir endings of any crime novel published [in 2011]" etc. were rather compelling. In the end, I was a little less taken with the result, although I do have to admit that I read it through rather speedily—three or four sittings spread over a little over a week.
I suppose my main complaints are two-fold. Firstly, this book is the fifth in a series and feels distinctly transitional, as though it is kind of a road stop between other, more developed stories. It works fine as a standalone—all the back story that you need about the characters is woven through the narrative—and yet, it seems pretty clear that having prior context about Doctor Quirke's orphan past, his decision to pretend that his daughter had a different father, and his relationships with his assistant and Detective Hackett would probably make this particular story feel more significant. I've read crime novels where the plot of one is really contingent on the one before it (Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead, for instance), but those are rare. Typically with a series, you can expect to step into it pretty much anywhere and feel as though you're right in it, even if the secondary plot line about the detective has developed over the course of multiple books. But here, there are an awful lot of references to past cases, past circumstances, etc. and in many instances, those cases sound a more compelling. A Death in Summer hones in on the femme fatale element, but only seems to occasionally dip into the crime itself, most of which is resolved in one fell sweep at the end.
To that end, I might add that the conclusion (specifically the child abuse at the orphanage), though most certainly serious in its tone and subject matter, is one that has been telegraphed quite clearly from early on. Its final reveal is a little disappointing, however, because it feels pretty cursory. I would definitely not enjoy reading vivid descriptions of child abuse, but I do think the psychological fall-out, as you might call it, is pretty glossed over here. Sure, Francoise immediately shoots her husband in the face when she discovers that he has been abusing her daughter, but, for one example, the way that the child behaves throughout the book doesn't seem at all consistent with the idea that she's been repeatedly raped by her father. Neither does the idea that Richard Jewell could just up and "corrupt" a twenty year old man and convince him to repeatedly take part in the systematic sexual abuse of children really make any sense. I appreciate the delicacy that the author had in explaining the crimes themselves—the circumstances are horrific enough without having to go into visceral specifics—but the psychology of the victims could have been dealt with in a less vague manner. ...more
I started listening to this audio book months ago on my commute to work and was really taken with it. It was light, but not at all what I had been expI started listening to this audio book months ago on my commute to work and was really taken with it. It was light, but not at all what I had been expecting, given that so much of the first couple chapters is actually about Precious' young life, her relationship with her father, and how she got her business off the ground. So it starts out reading a bit like a novel, and then switches to a sort of short story presentation, with each distinct crime lending itself to a contained chapter. (The exception being the narrative about the missing boy, which carries through multiple chapters.) I found, however, that eventually, I felt less and less compelled to get all the way to the end of the book—rather it was a pleasant story to dip into, but not one that left me desperate for a conclusion.
Perhaps I'll finish the last disc of the audio book over the summer, but if not, I feel as though I've had a good introduction to the series nevertheless....more
I read Smith's Changing my Mind last year and really loved it, but this short story/novella (which was apparently first published in The New Yorker) wI read Smith's Changing my Mind last year and really loved it, but this short story/novella (which was apparently first published in The New Yorker) was my first encounter with her fiction. It's so tightly contained, and yet it really gives you a sense of a whole wide world. The split narration structure—one close third narrator following the main character, Fatou, and one unnamed first person narrator standing in for 'us,' the people of the Willesden neighborhood where the story takes place—was rather genius. You get to be right in the story and next to the character and also outside, observing her impassively.
After reading this over one long bus ride, I found myself thinking about scenes and lines from this story for the whole week, reading passages from it out loud to other people. Probably time for me to pick up one of her novels. ...more
A very good friend sent this book to me via another very good friend who was going to be traveling through Iceland last year. Both of them highly recoA very good friend sent this book to me via another very good friend who was going to be traveling through Iceland last year. Both of them highly recommended the book to me (the second friend read it over the course of her plane ride) and even still, it took me quite a long time to read it. But I'm very glad I did finally, and thankful to both of them for the recommendation and US-to-Iceland delivery service.
A Man Called Ove is heartfelt and sappy and yep, you see most, if not all, of the plot shifts coming about a mile away. But it's heartfelt and sappy in a really lovely, comforting sort of way—a rather life- and humanity-affirming sort of way—and that's actually kind of refreshing. It hits the right notes and it makes you feel good about the world and its curmudgeonly main character is just such a good curmudgeon. Definitely a chicken noodle soup and slippers sort of read. ...more
My first Zweig, but certainly not my last. I obviously have nothing to compare to, but these two stories (or one short story and one novella) seem toMy first Zweig, but certainly not my last. I obviously have nothing to compare to, but these two stories (or one short story and one novella) seem to be a great introduction to the author's work, both thematically and in terms of the writing style.
The writing is lovely—descriptive without getting too bogged down in flowery descriptions, evocative without being showy. Zweig's descriptions of characters are also wonderful. These people—the blind woodcut collector who lives in the German countryside and Jacob (Buch)Mendel, the obsessively single-minded book pedlar—are definitely 'characters' in that you don't really imagine them as people that exist outside of a book, but they also feel very well-fleshed out, very true to their own stories. Likewise, both of these stories feel entirely complete—their outcomes totally inevitable. (Note: I don't mean predictable, so much as fated—part of a greater, historical storyline that simply couldn't turn out any other way.) The first story, "The Invisible Collection," especially so—almost reading like a fable that you've read many times before.
Set as they both are in the years following WWI, or per the "The Invisible Collection"'s subtitle, "during the inflation period in Germany," there is also certainly a political aspect to both of these stories, although it reads now as simply being on the right side of history. Zweig, I recently found out, having fled Austria after Hitler's rise to power, committed suicide with his wife in Brazil in the early 40s out of despair over the state of Europe and the rise of fascism. And there is certainly a mournful regret that hangs over these stories, even when not mentioned outright (as it is on occasion). But overall, there's a touching humanistic appreciation within this work which balances out what are ultimately pretty tragic tales. ...more
This was my first foray into the Rebus series, one which I had been eying for a long time—not least due to its Edinburgh setting. Funny then that theThis was my first foray into the Rebus series, one which I had been eying for a long time—not least due to its Edinburgh setting. Funny then that the one I picked to start with didn't actually take place in Edinburgh at all. No matter, though: A Question of Blood was a nice introduction to the character and his backstory, I think, even though it is a rather late entry as far as I can tell.
I finished the novel pretty snappily, without finding myself bored or distracted and wanting to jump over to other plots and books (a common problem for me). The interwoven plotting and snappy pacing are both work well, the characters and relationships clearly drawn, and the various intrigues all reasonably twisty. Good news all around. Personally, I thought the main subplot related to Rebus' suspicious injury (suspicious because his hands have been severely burned and a man he'd had altercations with died in an arson fire) was resolved a bit too easily, as was the internal inquiry into his possible role in a murder. Additionally, while it does draw out the suspense and the reader's uncertainty, the fact that he knows whether or not he's telling the truth about his involvement in the event but *we* don't know is kind of a cheat. It feels artificial, given that we are inside his thoughts for much of the rest of the book, but it's not written first person so I suppose Rankin can get away with it.
There were also times throughout the novel that I found Rebus' outsider status as your prototypical "loose canon" cop—complete with the wise-cracking, the disregarding authority, the inadvisable outbursts, etc.—a little forced. We get it already—he's a lone wolf (except he's not). No need to overdo it.
As a last side note, I loved the author intro on the book—the stories about the characters that Rankin wrote in after auctioning character rights and the anecdote about being pranked by a member of Belle and Sebastian. Good way to get a feel for Rankin's sense of humor and also nice to see how he incorporated a character that he didn't himself dream up from scratch, but rather had to work in as a sort of exercise. ...more
There was a lot of build up for this book, what with it advertising that it was "by turns loved and reviled upon its publication," plus I remember atThere was a lot of build up for this book, what with it advertising that it was "by turns loved and reviled upon its publication," plus I remember at least three separate people talking to me about it when it was first released. It made its way on to my shelf as a Christmas present (not mine, even) and being intrigued and at lose ends for my next book, I picked it up.
I read the first half of the book in two sittings over two days and spent most of my time firstly wondering at the fact that I didn't hate it (young hip and artsy people wondering "how should a person be?" can, you know, get annoying) and secondly, thinking of all my female friends that I would recommend it to. And then, well, I sort of petered out. The drama of the middle part of the book, such as it was, felt a bit manufactured. Everyone felt big, deep things and there were huge breaches of trust, but honestly, I couldn't figure out quite what all the fuss was about. Then, as the book came to a close, it certainly felt like something had been accomplished, and there was closure, but again, I'm not totally sure what necessitated the closure in the first place.
The structure is pretty interesting—episodic short chapters, sometimes written in epistolary fashion or as if you were reading a play—although I hated the numbered sentences in all the emails (not really a big deal, but why are those numbers there?).
But honestly, I'm not sure that this book is as genius or as indulgent or as insightful or as navel-gazing as anyone seems to think it is. I don't regret reading it, certainly, and I will remember things from it, but not in any sort of deep, life-changing fashion....more
It is always a pleasant surprise to confirm—or reconfirm, as the case may be—that that great author that “everyone” says is so good, or that “everyoneIt is always a pleasant surprise to confirm—or reconfirm, as the case may be—that that great author that “everyone” says is so good, or that “everyone” is made to read in high school or college, or that Time has declared to be Important, is actually, sincerely worth the hype. So it happens that I’ve had it reconfirmed for myself this year that J.D. Salinger is, yes: really, incredibly good.
I enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, but I actually read it too late (it wasn’t actually assigned to me in high school, when I really should have read it), and so it maybe hasn't been on the top of my Very Favorites list. Then I loved Franny and Zoey, which still stands as one of those books that I can read over and over, as I always remember loving it, but forget all the details, so then re-read it again and love it all over. Having just finished Nine Stories for the first time, I think it will be one of the latter kinds of books. I may not remember all of the details of each story, but I think the tone of the book will stick with me, and I will undoubtedly read and love it again in the future.
What stood out for me during this reading, stretched out over more than a month, is that I found myself constantly wanting to read little sections or snatches of dialog or wry observations out loud. Not only does Salinger just have an amazing talent for biting dialog which just sounds great to hear spoken, his turns of phrase also just tickle you (me) in a way which makes you want to share it. So it’s in this spirit that I’ve gone back through and found particularly quotable lines to share "aloud."
“A Perfect Day for a Banana Fish”
She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing.
“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”
”Well, wudga marry him for, then?” Mary Jane said.
“Oh, God, I don’t know. He told me he loved Jane Austen. He told me her books meant a great deal to him. That’s exactly what he said. I found out after we were married that he hadn’t even read one of her books. You know who his favorite author is?”
Mary Jane shook her head.
“L. Manning Vines. Ever hear of him?”
“Neither did I. Neither did anybody else. He wrote a book about four men who starved to death in Alaska. Lew doesn’t remember the name of it, but it’s the most beautifully written book he’s ever read. Christ! He isn’t even honest enough to come right out and say he liked it because it was about four guys who starved to death in an igloo or something. He has to say it was beautifully written.”
“Just Before the War with the Eskimos”
Ginnie openly considered Selena the biggest drip at Miss Basehoar’s—a school ostensibly abounding with fair-sized drips—but at the same time she had never known anyone like Selena for bringing a fresh can of tennis balls.
“What happened?” Ginnie asked, looking at him.
“Oh…it’s too long a story. I never bore people I haven’t known for at least a thousand years.”
“For Esme—with Love and Squalor”
”I thought Americans despised tea,” she said.
It wasn’t the observation of a smart aleck but that of a truth-lover or a statistics-lover.
“Yes; quite,” said my guest, in the clear, unmistakable voice of a small-talk detester.
He sighed heavily and said, “Christ, Almighty.” It meant nothing; it was Army.
Loretta was Clay’s girl. They meant to get married at their earliest convenience. She wrote to him fairly regularly, from a paradise of triple exclamation points and inaccurate observations.
Clay stared at him for a moment, then said, rather vividly, as if he were the bearer of exceptionally good news, “I wrote Loretta you had a nervous breakdown."
“Yeah. She’s interested as hell in all that stuff. She’s majoring in psychology.” Clay stretched himself out on the bed, shoes included. “You know what she said? She said nobody gets a nervous breakdown just from the war and all. She says you probably were unstable like, your whole goddamn life.
X bridged his hands over his eyes—the light over the bed seemed to be blinding him—and said that Loretta’s insight into things was always a joy.
“You know that apple Adam ate in the Garden of Eden, referred to in the Bible?” he asked. “You know what in that apple? Logic. Logic and intellectual stuff…I never saw such a bunch of apple-eaters,” he said. He shook his head.
With the Iceland Noir conference coming up in November, now seemed as good a time as any to read another Erlendur novel, the first I've picked up sincWith the Iceland Noir conference coming up in November, now seemed as good a time as any to read another Erlendur novel, the first I've picked up since Voices, maybe six years ago. I wasn't overwhelmed by Voices, I will admit, but I really liked Erlendur as a detective, so such a long pause in the series does feel a bit strange to me. And for reasons I really can't remember, if I had them in the first place, I skipped over the next title in the series, The Draining Lake and went for this one instead. So, starting it, I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't remember enough of the detective's back story to follow that continuing plot line. As it turns out, I needn't have worried on the latter point, as the back story plot picks up in a new spot, but with plenty of reminders to help old readers remember, and new readers catch up.
There are an enjoyable number of intertwining circumstances and stories in this installment: Erlendur's ordeal losing his brother in a snowstorm when he was a child dovetails with the murder of a Thai child whose older brother then feels responsible for not protecting him better. Additionally, there is an ongoing missing persons case and a possible child abuse case which loom on the sidelines, effecting Erlendur's general mood and response to the case as it unfolds. Not to mention other painful life-filler, such as Sigurður Olí's ambivalence about adopting a child now that it has been determined that he and his partner can't have their own child, and Marion Briem's death.
This is also the first crime novel set in Iceland that I have read after moving here, and it is certainly interesting to read about Reykjavík and know the streets which are being mentioned, the shops, and the statues. It adds one more layer of verisimilitude.
The racial tension in the novel is presented with nuance and accuracy, I think, although I did find myself bristling at the regular use of the word "colored" to refer to Icelanders of non-white ethnicities, specifically Thai people. I have been asking around, but still am not totally sure if this is just a direct translation of a regularly used Icelandic term, or a bit of an anachronism in the English. I'm interested enough that I just might try and pick up the Icelandic version for comparison.
I spontaneously picked this book up from a shelf at the library dedicated to authors who took part in the recent Reykjavík International Literary FestI spontaneously picked this book up from a shelf at the library dedicated to authors who took part in the recent Reykjavík International Literary Festival. I'd never read anything by Douglas Coupland and loved the idea of Player One's compressed timeline, as well as the motley cast of characters. The book starts gorgeously—it almost reads like a one act play, with snappy dialog and full passages that you can't help but read out loud to the person next to you—but the momentum dissolves rather abruptly after the apocalypse actually takes place. The Player One conceit is a bit heavy handed and the worlds' end observations made by the various characters (or the narrator) cease to be all that unique.
Nevertheless, there is a wonderful fluidity to Coupland's writing, a run-on rhythm which is really fun to read. Moreover, most of the characters (with one or two exceptions) are authentically, creatively quirky, and feel like real, if slightly enlarged, personalities. And I also have to give Coupland credit for writing a novel set in the present which features a number of pop culture and technology references without feeling immediately stale or dated.
And so, in deference to the early strength of the book and the aforementioned run-on rhythms, I'll quote an early passage which is part of the introduction to the character Karen, a recently divorced woman traveling to Toronto to meet with the man she hopes will become her lover:
There's a teenage boy across the aisle in the row ahead of Karen who has glanced her way a few times on this flight. Karen is flattered to think she might be considered hot—albeit a "hot mom"—but then she also knows that this horny kid probably has some kind of sin-detecting hand-held gadget lurking in his shirt pocket, lying in wait for Karen to undo more buttons or pick her nose or perform any other silly act that was formerly considered private, a silly act that will ultimately appear on a gag-photo website alongside JPEGs of baseball team portraits in which one member is actively vomiting, or on a movie site where teenagers, utterly unaware of the notion of cause and effect, jump from suburban rooftops onto trampolines, whereupon they die.
I came upon Death of a Naturalist in a roundabout fashion, even for me. I wanted to find an example of slant rhyme, since my little sister had writtenI came upon Death of a Naturalist in a roundabout fashion, even for me. I wanted to find an example of slant rhyme, since my little sister had written a poem using this, I thought, and I wanted to make sure I paid an accurate compliment. So I googled "slant rhyme" and came across a poetry site that used the poem "Digging," which opens this collection, as an example. There was an audio track of Heaney reading the poem and I was so taken with it that I went the next day to the university library and checked out the book, as well as another of Heaney's poetry collections and his translation of Beowulf.
I haven't read either of the other two Heaney books yet, but I've read this one twice now, and some of the poems in it four or five times at least. I think it might be fair to say that this is among the first poetry books, if not the very first, which I have well and truly loved.
I love the simple, quotidian subject matter—a creepy encounter with a rat ("An Advancement of Learning"), a child's love and later revulsion of frog spawn ("Death of a Naturalist"), potato digging, blackberry picking, the pathetic sadness of a turkey, once on the plate, a photograph of a long-dead relative. These simple topics are wonderful platforms for larger themes and explorations, of course, but they are also beautiful in and of themselves, and its lovely to read work so attentive to minutia.
I love the language—Heaney swings between sort of breath-takingly strange and unique descriptions and run-of-the-mill, commonly known quotations. In "Trout," we see "A volley of cold blood / ramrodding the current," and in "Docker," we hear "Mosaic imperatives bang home like rivets." I found myself stopping to try and picture images or hear sounds to go along with these phrasings, and not being a visual reader (at all), this was a very unique experience for me. But then in "Twice Shy," Heaney borrows the line "still waters run deep," which has been used to the point of banality by now, and in "The Play Way," he borrows from T.S. Elliot's "The Waste Land," for his line "Mixing memory and desire with chalk dust." There's a wonderful accessibility to interweaving these familiar phrases with his own unique voice.
I love that I want to listen to these poems read aloud. I have been searching, quite in vain, for a video or sound file of Heaney reading "Poor Women in a City Church," simply because I can't work out how the rhyme scheme is supposed to be read. And hearing Heaney read some of his other poems has brought them to life for me in a way that I haven't experienced before. I usually find line breaks and changing rhyme schemes to be a hindrance to my reading, but here, it very much seems worth the effort.
And maybe I'm loving this collection so much because now, living in Iceland, certain landscape imagery and descriptions really resonate with me. In "Synge on Aran," there's the line, "Islanders too / are for sculpting. Note / the pointed scowl, the mouth / carved as an upturned anchor / and the polished head / full of drownings." And pretty much the whole of "Storm on the Island," so I'm just going to copy it here:
We are prepared: we build our houses squat, Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate. The wizened earth had never troubled usWith hay, so as you can see, there are no stacks Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees Which might prove company when it blows full Blast: you know what I mean - leaves and branches Can raise a chorus in a galeSo that you can listen to the thing you fear Forgetting that it pummels your house too. But there are no trees, no natural shelter. You might think that the sea is company, Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits The very windows, spits like a tame cat Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo. We are bombarded by the empty air. Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.